Following a vacuous egomaniac’s inevitable rise to power, Alfred Jarry’s savagely grotesque satire may never have felt more relevant than it does in our particular political moment.
In Ubu! A Singalong Satire, Cornwall-based theatre company Kneehigh has reworked the show as a rowdy interactive musical, cannily equating pop music with populism and enthusiastic participation with uncritical obedience. Coups and assassinations pass by in the background as we cheerily belt out hits by the Beatles and the Carpenters. Ubu introduces himself via the Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK, but he’s not seeking a revolution, only sheer, nihilistic self-aggrandisement.
Katy Owen plays the titular dictator as a simpering, wheedling opportunist, willing to step on anyone in pursuit of power, while a snarling, preening Mike Shepherd plays Mrs Ubu as a pantomime Lady Macbeth, her merciless ambition driving the plot forwards.
Arrayed against them, Kyla Goodey is strong as dopey, disinherited millennial Bobbi, an untested optimist who ultimately rallies the populace against the usurpers.
The house band – led by show-stealingly charismatic vocalist Nandi Bhebhe – provide infectious accompaniment throughout, thumping through a range of punky, poppy covers that take in everything from Portishead to Puccini.
Co-directors Carl Grose and Shepherd give the production a suitably anarchic staging, with performers weaving through the crowd and energetic games breaking out at random intervals. It’s exhilarating and enjoyable, though it rarely summons up the sheer outrage the piece demands, ending on a cosy and uplifting note rather than a lingering howl of protest.